The Agony of Victory

Captain Samuel Fiske (Co. G, 14th CT Vol. Inf.) was not with the regiment during the Battle of Gettysburg. He was serving on the staff of Col. Samuel Carroll’s 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 2nd Corps. This brigade was sent to support the 11th Corps on Cemetery Hill on July 2, and saw heavy fighting in defeating repeated assaults by Ewell’s Corps of Confederates late that day and early on July 3. Fiske’s writings are full of praise for Col. Carroll and the gallantry and conduct of the Army of the Potomac.

But by Sunday, July 5, 1863, Fiske high spirits were shattered. Here are a few excerpts from his letter to the Republican newspaper under the title “Dunn Browne Critical Again.”

Yesterday, I expected to enjoy the most glorious anniversary of its national independence the country ever saw. But it proved to be the most anxious and finally miserable day I ever spent, for we did absolutely nothing! Gen. Meade has shown such skill and ability hitherto, that we are all inclined to trust him to the uttermost; but how can it be that he has not lost the most glorious opportunity of the whole war?

The men universally were eager, anxious, panting to be led on to complete the triumph and utterly crush the defeated and despairing enemy. They were like hounds on the leash, panting to be let loose. And then it was Independence Day! Good Heavens! We could not be defeated that day. I would stake my life a thousand times over on the issue.

I know Gen. Meade and not I is the one who has disposed the troops and guided them to victory…. Even if he doesn’t let a remnant of the army of Lee get back across the Potomac, I shall still contend that the work of annihilation were better done yesterday. This morning we learn that his (Lee’s) artillery has been moving all night, and I suppose there is scarcely a shadow of doubt the old fox is gone.

Indeed, Meade was widely criticized for his slow pursuit of Lee. At Williamsport on the Potomac, Lee’s army was trapped for a week, from July 6 to July 13, because Federal cavalry had destroyed his pontoon bridges and high river water prevented them from being rebuilt. Union troops arrived in force on July 12, and before they could deploy and prepare a vigorous attack, Lee’s army had escaped across the river. The Confederate army would live to fight again.


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